Ronnie Winter - lead vocals, guitar, percussion, baritone horn
Duke Kitchens - guitar, piano, vocals
Joey Westwood - bass, vocals
Jon Wilkes - drums, vocals
“My Grandpa said to me/ Grandson sit down we need to talk/ In life there may be times/ When it gets hard to walk the walk/ It´s easier to take the path/ That most have traveled on / But then again sometimes to do what´s right/ You must walk alone”
Just two years have passed since The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, a group of friends from Middleburg, Florida who’d grown up together, emerged with their Virgin Records debut, Don’t You Fake It, which spent 62 weeks on Billboard’s Top 200, going on to sell more than a million copies in the U.S. The platinum-plus single, “Face Down,” sold 1.5 million digital downloads, has been streamed almost 17 million times on MySpace and has since been retired after spending 52 weeks on the Top 20 Modern Rock chart (RJA is one of two bands to have done so). Rock radio smash “False Pretense” and the new wedding/prom standard “Your Guardian Angel” (10.2 million MySpace spins and 455k downloads) contributed to the album’s total of 50 million MySpace streams, and the band has since sold-out national headline and festival tour appearances.
On top of RJA’s musical accomplishments, they’ve spoken on Capitol Hill on behalf of teen suicide prevention and mental health parity, founded their own charitable organization and have even created a clothing line with skateboard legend Tony Hawk, but still remain under the radar and one of the biggest bands that no one’s heard of.
The band set out to change this when it came time to hit the studio for the all-important follow-up. At first, the group ran headlong into a music industry going through changes, delaying its release. While frustrated by these delays, lead vocalist and songwriter Ronnie Winter, who started the band with guitarist Duke Kitchens seven years ago, is now convinced the time spent working on the songs that became Lonely Road with producer Howard Benson [My Chemical Romance, Daughtry, Less Than Jake, Hoobastank, P.O.D., All-American Rejects, Seether] was well worth it.
“Is this good enough for you, man?” he sneers in the album’s first single, “You Better Pray,” a bluesy, ringing-guitar, rock and roll salute to “the little guy, the underdog,” which, according to Winter, is how he characterizes his band.
“It’s been a wild ride,” he acknowledges. “Everything really fell into place for us on that first album. We have a lot of incredible fans who bought our record. But we’re just these kids from a small town who play together, and have done it on our own. But it’s ultimately a lonely road that requires you to be away from your family, and that’s time you don’t get back.”
Indeed, Lonely Road is about circling the wagons and moving forward with your bandmates and fans, despite the naysayers, tackled in new songs like the catchy punk-rock of “Pen & Paper,” a poison dart at the nemesis’s and non-believers from the bands past (“You set yourself up to be sold/And that’s OK, cause that’s your role/Manipulation takes its toll/What will you do when nobody wants you?”).
“Everybody disregarded our first album when it came out, said our name was stupid and too long, that we looked and sounded like everybody else,” nods Ronnie “Apparently, a lot of people who bought the record didn’t agree.”
Working with Benson at his Bay 7 Recording Studios in the San Fernando Valley helped RJA expand their musical palette as well.
“He and his team are very encouraging of creativity,” explains bassist Joey Westwood, who joined the band three years ago with drummer Jon Wilkes in time for the first album. “They were really open to ideas, no matter how crazy, which could come from anyone. They made us feel good about trying new things, and that really opened up the individual songs.”
That growth can be heard on new tracks like “Believe,” a ballad with impeccable background harmonies and a pop-soul feel enhanced by lush arrangements featuring a real string section. “When we recorded that, I just kept telling Howard, ‘Think Motown,’” laughs Winter.
“Pleads and Postcards” is a dramatic, heart-felt rocker about a missive from a soldier telling his loved one at home to move on if he should not make it back alive (“This could be the last time that I speak with you/So just in case let’s make the best of what we have until it’s through”).
“My younger brother just got home from Iraq, where he was a chaplain’s assistant,” reveals the singer. “And he told me one of the hardest things he had to do was deal with soldiers who just returned from the battlefront only to find out their girlfriend or wife was leaving, which would be just devastating to them.”
The title track is an autobiographical acoustic folk-rock ballad, a grandfather’s hard-earned advice to his grandson, topped with a soaring gospel choir. “My grandfather raised us,” says Ronnie. “He taught us to be strong and stand our ground even in the toughest times, he even bought me my first guitar,” he adds. “If you walk with us on our journey, when you listen to the ending of that song, you will feel it.”
The closing “Godspeed” is another departure for RJA, starting with its martial snare, concert bass drum, marching soldiers and crashing cymbals, then ending with an ethereal gospel choir, it’s a song about killing an enemy in battle (“Then I saw him standing with a bayonet/And as I ran towards him he hardly broke a sweat/When I took his life he fell onto his knees”), only to have him ask to deliver his last message to a loved one (“Godspeed this letter/Away from here/I’ve sealed it with my tears/And stamped it with my fears”).
“We felt like we could do anything we wanted to,” says Westwood. “We didn’t want to limit ourselves. We really got to explore different sounds on each song. It shows a broader range of what we’re capable of. All those small things taken together really helped open it up stylistically. This record is very visual, almost like a Broadway play.”
Music is just one part of The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, though, preferring to use their visibility to promote causes they believe in. The band founded The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus Guardian Angel Foundation as an umbrella group to support a wide range of initiatives, including the fight against domestic violence (the subject of their hit single, “Face Down”), hyperglycemia research and their latest project, supporting high school band programs in need of funds, something that hits home particularly for Ronnie, who was an all-state tuba and sousaphone player. The group has plans to make impromptu performances at high schools along with their orchestra, contributing all proceeds to their programs.
“We walk a thin line between making sure these things don’t become just media events and getting enough attention to enable us to raise the necessary funds,” he explains. “Every song we release has a reason and/or link to the Foundation. We don’t want to limit ourselves to a single issue, especially when we’re relevant with a voice that matters.”
Just a little over two years ago, The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus released Don’t You Fake It. With Lonely Road, the second chapter, they continue their journey at a town near you.
“Now we’re ready to get out there and show what we accomplished on this record,” says Joey. “We’re happy with our success, but we want to make it even better, for us and our fans. It almost feels like we’ve been given a second life, like we’re born-again.”
“We’re taking this very seriously because we want to blow people away with these new songs,” adds Ronnie. “It’s a bit of a risk, a little departure, but it’s still Red Jumpsuit. We’re just playing cooler music… We’re gonna give ‘em hell.”